Penguin Random House Sue Florida School District
By Megan Whitlock
Penguin Random House have united with the literary and free speech non-profit, PEN America, authors, parents and other advocates to sue the Escambia County school district and its Florida board over the banning of books that include race and LGBTQIA+ issues.
The suit, filed on 16 May 2023, has criticised school administrators on the basis of violating the First Amendment (protecting the freedom of speech, press and assembly) and the Fourteenth Amendment (providing citizens with rights and equal protection under the law). It notes that the majority of the books banned by these schools are from non-white and/or LGBTQIA+ authors and frequently deal with these themes, and that to ban them on the basis of disagreeing with their topics is discriminatory and violates the right to free speech and expression.
The lawsuit follows PEN’s analysis that at least fifty groups have influenced the banning of books in the 2021–2022 school year, where about 41% “were books that tell stories related to LGBTQ people or that have a queer lead or prominent secondary character” and 40% had “main characters who are people of colour” [CNN, 2022]. These figures reflect a worrying trend in recent years of increasing efforts to suppress diverse literature in schools and libraries, particularly in states such as Florida, which is already dealing with the after-effects of the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Books that have been affected include titles such as George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, a series of essays documenting Johnson’s experiences as a queer Black man, and When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, a children’s picture book starring a transgender protagonist preparing to become a big brother. The wave of banning books in the state gained traction after a teacher at a local high school filed a motion to ban Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the grounds of it being “pornographic material,” going on to target many more books that deal with identity topics.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, declared in a statement that: “Children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the Constitution” [CNN].